In Brief: Vatican works to eliminate WASH deficits in health facilities

The Papal flag. Approximately 150 Catholic health facilities are receiving the Vatican's support in evaluating their WASH gaps. Photo by: Pietro Naj-Oleari / EP / CC BY-NC-ND

The Vatican — alongside Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, and Global Water 2020 — is supporting approximately 150 Catholic health care facilities in evaluating water, sanitation, and hygiene deficits as a first step to remedying them.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 health care centers lack hand-washing facilities, and in the lowest-income countries, almost half have no clean water.

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The announcement to support such assessments follows a letter from the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development — established by Pope Francis in 2017 — sent to Conferences of Bishops last year, urging them to identify Catholic health care facilities with poor WASH access.

“We need to understand, as far as possible, the kinds and the roots of the problems … Frankly, you can address a problem only if you identify it and understand it,” Tebaldo Vinciguerra, an official of the Dicastery, told Devex in an email. Results of the assessments will be compiled in a report to publish later this year.

Why it matters: The Vatican’s call to action will inspire other organizations and governments that run health care facilities to take action, David Douglas, principal of Global Water 2020 and nonprofit Waterlines, said in a statement.

COVID-19 has shown how powerful and effective collaboration can be, Alexandra Knezovich, director of operations at the Toilet Board Coalition, said, adding that they “appreciate the Vatican’s leadership” in exploring its role in this area.

Is this enough?

Zoe Pacciani, country director for Engineers Without Borders USA in Uganda and adviser to Freshwater Project International — an organization that provides WASH to villages, schools, and health centers — said she’s not sure how much the Vatican's involvement will help in raising awareness, but that it could be significant in raising funds.

“I think the fact that there is Vatican support for these development initiatives will mean more support and that in itself is a huge benefit to those struggling to raise the funds for WASH in health care rehabilitation,” she said.

Update, March 23, 2021: This article has been updated to include Zoe Pacciani’s response.

Devex, with support from our partner GHR Foundation, is exploring the intersection between faith and development. Visit the Focus on: Faith and Development page for more. Disclaimer: The views in this article do not necessarily represent the views of GHR Foundation.

About the author

  • Amruta Byatnal

    Amruta Byatnal is an Associate Editor at Devex based in New Delhi. She reports on global health, gender and human rights. Previously, she worked for News Deeply and The Hindu. She is a graduate of Cornell University where she studied international development.